tv Tavis Smiley PBS February 3, 2017 6:30am-7:01am PST
good evening from los angeles i'm tavis smiley. tonight a conversation with barry jens kins, now nominated for eight academy awards, including best picture, best director, best adapted screen play, best supporting actor, and best supporting actress. moonlight, the little film doing big things and everybody's talking about it, including us. tonight, with this director, barry jenkins in just a moment.
and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. we shall see what happens on oscar night february 26th, what we already know is that barry jenkins is the first african american to have a film that he wrote and directed land in all three of the major oscar categories and should he take home the oscar statue as best director, he will be the first black director to do so in the history of the academy. the film captures what it feels like to be a poor black kid growing up in the projects of miami. it tells universal story through
one man's personal struggles and before we commence our conversation with mr. jenkins, here's a scene from moonlight featuring oscar nominee, naomi harris. >> hey! >> hey. >> hey, baby, where'd you go last night? >> what? why? >> i'm your mama, ain't i? why you ain't just come home later, boy? you had me worried about you. i guess you getting grown. i can't be keeping up with you all the time. anyway, baby, i ain't seen since the funeral. let yourself out the door, yes, can you come let her in?
come on, baby. let me in, baby. baby, come on. >> i heard you whisper to me when that clip played, this is a tough scene. >> yeah. >> what'd you mean by that? >> i think when you watching someone as gifted as talented as naomi harris basically embody these memories from your past, embody your mom on this very tough moment, just -- i mean, to direct it was tough and to watch is tough. it was very dark. >> yeah. give me a better sense of where you overlay some of your story in with the story of the author. that makes for the film. >> yeah, so both myself and terrell adam mccrany, the play right and moonlight blackwood, we both grew up in the neighborhood you see depicted in the film. that's liberty city. >> you didn't know each other?
>> didn't know each other. went to the same schools, about eight months apart in age. and we should have known each other. we certainly feel like both of our moms, not necessarily knew each other, but they must have been in the same places because they both struggled with crack cocaine that you see depicted in the film. pretty much everywhere, you know, with the exception of, you know, sexuality, you know, myself and terrell's life, just completely overlapped. >> what do you make of the serendipity of that? >> you know, it's one of those things where i'll speak to this, for a long time, i didn't want to tell this story. you know, i just wasn't comfortable talking about these things. and it took, you know, randomly, you know, meeting becoming friends with terrell, you know, in the 33rd year of our lives, you know, to see that he owns this place when he was ready to speak on it. i could have the courage to speak on it as well. just amazing the way the world can conspire sometimes. >> tell me more about how cathartic or not the experience has been for you to tell the
story, not just on screen, but obviously in these conversations when the subject comes up, you're obviously sharing more about your own personal journey. cathartic, is that the wrong word? >> i think cathartic is the right word. a little more nuance or it me depending on the frame of the conversation. where i'm having it, who i'm having it with. i think for my mom and i, it's been a very progressive experience. and it allows us to progress in our friendship and our relationship. i think the act of making the movie for me with her was a part of coming to this point where i didn't feel like these things he went through was anything to be ashamed of. wasn't anything to bury or to hide. on the flip side, there are people from all over the place who hit me up on twitter, instagram, who've been through the same experiences and what we all realize is, we get to the point where we feel like we can't talk about this with other people because either people will shun us or they'll pity us. you know, and i think in dealing with these things, so openly, i
must say, it's gotten to the point where it's just a part of my story like everybody else. >> can sky, if i can't, slap me, can i ask -- >> barry jenkins came on the show and slapped tavis smiley. >> you like that. not having it. >> and then he laughs after he said. i slapped you, ha-ha ha-ha. may i ask what the relationship is like these days between you and your mom? >> it's good. it's productive. you know, for a long time we didn't talk about these things. you know, it's funny, i told someone, you know, i don't know that my mom is ready to watch this film. i don't think she wants to see herself reflected in this way. i think it's a very honest depiction, you know, she read every interview naomi harris has given and signed off, and like no, i think she doesn't want to see the other characters. she doesn't want to see how this character little is affected by the things y'all went through. i was like oh. i guess, yeah. i can see where you coming from.
>> at this point, your mother has not seen it. >> still has not. i don't think she wants to watch it with an audience. i think she wants to watch it by herself. so i keep sending her a dvd ahead of the dvd release and she can pop it in at her leisure. >> yeah. what do you expect? what happened after she sees it. >> i think she'll be proud because everyone else in my family has seen it. they're extremely proud. including my sister who is probably the closest person in my family who went through these things. i think she'll be proud of the work and naomi's portarial is full of tenderness in the appropriate places. i think it's very honest and raw in other places. and i'm still here. you know, i thinkest that the most important thing. >> it is important. >> you couldn't have done it if you weren't. i'm glad you did. naomi was here a couple weeks ago. we had a great conversation. so, i'm not saying this because you're here, i'm saying it because it's true and i want to get to something here. i'm fortunate to talk to a lot
of people on this program every night and on radio. and i travel around the country, i'm always in conversation with all kinds of people in airports and hotels. and restaurants. i have not gone anywhere and had a conversation with anybody at my race, color, gender, sexual orientation, i've not had a conversation with anybody who saw this film and didn't love it. every single person who i have talked to who has seen this film, including half of my crew here. loved the film. and they love it in part because no matter who they are, no matter what, you know, they are made of, there's something universal about this story. that everybody connects to. and that's what i think the great film is, it allows all of us to wrestle with and revel in our own humanity and that of other people. but i'm curious, having said all of that, how do you take a film that is this specific about an experience that most americans do not have to those who have seen this film and yet they
connect to it. >> uh-huh. >> how did you pull that off? >> you know, the one thing i say is because we weren't trying to pull that off. i think we sort of tried to lean in and as you say, make the most specific film we could. >> universal. >> yeah. >> you know -- >> it's not, but it is. you know, it is, in the sense that i think we can all identify with no matter where you are, no weather you're in the projects or miami. you're growing up with silver smooth in your mouth. i think we can all identify with this aspect that, you know, we move in the world. and the world is given us all of this sporns. and the world is telling us, that thing you did, that was cool. the other thing you did, not so cool. and we receive that and we go oh, i'm not going to do this thing anymore, even though i feel it's the right thing. even though i feel it's who i am. everybody can identify, you know, what this sort of struggle, you know, to decide for yourself, you know, who you are. you know, and what your place in life is. i think because we tell that struggle, but we don't try to
codify it any other way than fidelity to the world it's said in and the things and myself the play right went there. people respect that. and i think they respect us for inviting them in. you know. because you think the film is not told in a way that's meant to manipulate an audience and to identifying with it. but it is an inviting experience. you know, we literally invite the add dwroens walk a mile in our character's shoes. as evidence by the clip where we allow you to look right into the eyes of our characters and to be in the body of the characters. i think people, they relish and appreciate it. >> i've always heard from countless people, and these are not sin moographers who belong to the union, but people who go to see film. who just, in their own way, tried to share at me how much they love the way the film was shot. so to a layperson watching this conversation tonight, what trick, what'd you do to pull us in regarding the way you shot
this thing? >> you know the biggest trick i would say it is if i tell you i'm making a movie about a poor black boy growing up in the hood with a mom addicted to drugs, struggling with sexuality, you think you know what this film looks plieng it's a drab, social realist documentary kind of film. we wanted this to be rooted in the main character. you know, has a huge interior life, even though he's not expressing himself verbally as well as everyone around him. there are certain moments where the character is disoriented, like the scene with naomi harris in the courtyard. we wanted to allow ourselves the freedom to go the slow motion. look our character in the eye. there's so many places where there are things that defy the expectations of the set-up of the scene it's because we're in the interior mind of the character. you know, i think another aspect of it is, film and the medium you know it's only been around for 120 years. hasn't changed much. emotion was calibrated to photograph white skin. those are the people that could afford to bite cameras on the
weekends. and so we have all these lights in this room. we often put powder on people. you know, and in this film where i grew up, i remember black folks sweating. i remember the skin replenishing itself being very moist. so in this film, the make-up person was told, no powder, only oil. we got great oils, shay but thor to allow the skin to reflect the light. reflect the light. and so i think our visual approach because it's coming from my memory of what it feel like to live this experience and we're allowing ourselves to be rooted in the consonance of the character and arise fresh and different. i think people when they receive these images, they feel like they're seeing things for the first time. story like this before, they haven't seen it told in this way and the visuals have a lot to do with that. >> it must make you feel awfully good to know that not only is the film nominated, screen play adapted screen play, film for best pictures i said earlier, best director if you, you got two cast members nominated for the big awards.
talk to me about the casting. clearly in retrospect it was brilliant casting. when naomi was here, cue up this clip, but i remember what you said, although looking at anyna is always a good thing. >> clean. >> getting clean over here. i remember her telling me when she was here, barry, that you guys shot this really quick. how many? >> 25 days. >> 25 days. not a big budget. >> like under two million. >> okay. so how do you -- how did you know that these were the right people to cast? not just to play these roles, but to give you what you needed in 25 days? 25 days ain't a lot of time to make a bunch of mistakes. >> that's true. you had better get the right people because the scope and the time is so limited. tell me more about obviously the brilliance of your casting given that the academy is nominated
two of your actors. >> the first part of it was we gave ourselves a lot of time to find the right people. with naomi, we knew they were going to be great. and naomi in particular the only actor who appears in all three chapters of the film, so you know, everybody else is doing this thing where they walk on the story and then we conceptualize the character and he's embody by a different person. naomi has to convey she's become a different person from story to story. we needed someone who was skilled for her part. and then we just took the time to find her. same thing. the other actors, it was about the sort of like presence, this essence, you know, film is not a medium to relay, i think literature is better for that. and yet in this film, we have a character who's retreating into himself, we need the the interior light to be visible. like the expression, the body posture. and so we just gave ourself, we shot the movie in 25 days, we cast for about 16 months. it's like you know, you figure out where you need to put the
time. and the time was in casting. and you know, luckily, eventually, you know, we started to build it in blocks. we find one actor then another actor, different actor, and eventually we got to this place where we had a group of people who just had the soul for this. they believe in the material, they believe in the characters. and they believed in the film. and when they showed up, you know, what i like to say is a person like that, he's only one third of the film, and yet gave us full self. i think everybody in this film gave the full self. about about the nominations. thank you for mentioning how widespread they were. this movie it took a village. no other way to make this film than everybody pitching in. what i love about our eight nominations is it's spread across the whole gamut of the village. you move any one piece, and not that it falls apart, but it's not the same project. >> set your modesty aside for a second here. i found myself in the situation when it broke out and lord has he broken out. this young brother is doing the
thing with la la land. he's done quite well the last few years since i first met him. but i recall asking him the same question i want to ask you now. tell me more about your back story. once you come on the scene, everybody knows your film, but we don't know you. who is barry jenkins. we know where you came from, but more about your journey professionally for how you got the opportunity or took the opportunity to make this masterpiece. >> you know it starts off with film school. i'm a public school kid. i grew up like the kid in this movie and florida state just happened to be the big public school in the state of florida where you could go to if you had a certain gpa, paid for by the florida lottery. >> yeah. shotout to the florida lottery. >> and the state of florida back then, i think it was run a bit differently. the state of florida won to the drive film industry in the state. they built a film school and invited florida kids into that program. and it was a beautiful situation because as someone who grew up poor, they provided the
equipment, the stock, different things. i got into film school. i didn't know anything about it. over the course two of years, kind of got kind of good at it. i wasn't sure if i could do it. i didn't know you needed light to expose film. i grew up poor, black, mom addicted to crack, i'm not good at this because people like me aren't meant to be good. over the course two of years. i did the work and i taught myself, you know, thousand shoot my own film. instead of watching the best. i trained myself on how to do this. moved out here, i worked at the film company for two years. darnell martin, six years later, i made a very low budget $13,000 independent film. started from that and kind of got me put on. plan b saw that film. i tried to work on a few things, didn't quite work out, and then six years after that first film, i wrote this. and i've worked at this film festival, been there since 2002,
i used to make popcorn, cleaned toilets, everything. grew up there as a kid. now in 2013 by that time, i'm introducing films. i write the screen play, and come back, wrote this movie in belgium. i fly from brussels, there was a missouri called toi ya is a slave. world premier. they come off the stage and go hey barry jenkins. what are you up to? i was like oh, just got this play by terrell called a moonlight black boys in blue. three years later moonlight. and now we got eight academy award nominations. now i speed read that, but that's my story. >> i asked that question -- you didn't have to go that fast, but i asked that question because it is not just instructive or informative, but it is empowering and it is inspiring to persons who see this program who see this kicked around social media to understand the back story. i say all the time, people see your glory, but they don't know the back story. >> true. >> and it's important to hear
that. struggling not just in film, but whatever it is they want to become. and it's important for them to hear a story of what happens and what the process is. to get you where you need to be. then you look up and get the right material and you have eight academy award nominations. >> for a lot of people i just appeared. >> that's never the case. >> wasn't the case, certainly not the case with me. you know, i think i have been very fortunate in a certain way. not everybody works the film festival and introduce an academy award winning film starring brad pitt and produced by his company. i was in all of those places, but it all started in 2002 with me being a kid. who just wanted to work at a film festival. then i kept at it. and not that i always had faith that that would happen, but i love the work. i sometimes teach kid, be in love with the process, not the results. and the process will generate the results. you know, that's been the case with this film certainly. and i think with the whole
course of my career so far. >> so you have been around long enough to see the juxtaposition between what didn't happen last year and what is happening this year from black folk at the economy. what do you make of the year? >> you know, i wish we could go back in time and then place these same films into last year. then i think we'd have data to compare. i think, you know, one obvious film started three and a half, four, five years ago, seven years ago in case of fences. they just happened to arrive at this moment. i think beautifully they've all arrived. in the room where hidden figures won, it was like this amazing feeling. and again, we all just happen to arrive at this moment. i think that what happened last year, not that it was necessary, but i think it made people sit up and pay attention. you know, for the longest time -- >> black head coaches. >> you don't have to hire one. at the very interview candidates. >> absolutely. >> i think with the oscars so
white was a situation where again if i tell you what my film was about, you might assume, oh, i know that film. i know what that looks like. i don't need to watch that. now, i sit up and pay attention. i'm going to watch the film, and low and behold, it's not what i expected. so i think that -- thing year's different because the mandate has been created. it's like no, you know, we can't get away with looking the other way or overlooking or looking past the work. and the beauty is i think the industry i work in is not a ha imagine nis industry. everybody nominated exists within the industry. and this industry, i'm glad that we have a group of nominees that are more reflective but the world i live in which as we all know is more important today, you know, than it was six weeks ago. >> yeah. speaks of the world we live in and the sag awards. there were a lot of good speeches. handful of great speeches, but mr. ali's speech, i thought, was just phenomenal. >> yeah. >> how -- i mean you know him because you directed him in this
film. huge shoutout, but how did you intake what he was saying in that moment? because i thought it was -- it was powerful. >> it was. you know, ali is a great man. i call him ali. he was a great man. and i think in his greatness, he is very modest. you know, and he doesn't, you know, he doesn't play some self at the forefront of many things, you know, by necessity maybe, i don't know. i was proud that he stood up, you know, and said what he said. because i think that based on what happened over the last eight days, you know, i think, you know, a lot of us are feeling threatened. you know, and i think he feels more threatened than others for obvious reasons. you know, it's not a good feeling to feel like your religion, you know, could lead to you being persecuted within the country that you call home. the country that you love. speaking on behalf of him, and so i thought he was just in saying what he said. i thought it came from the heart.
not going to need it to be said, but i was damn glad it was said. >> how are you processing all of this? how are you keeping -- feet are on the ground now. >> you know, you know, there's a lot going on that that is bigger than me. you know, i am the kid in this film. terrell and i are the kid in this film. i think you watch this movie and you don't assume a character like him is going to grow up and win a golden globe. and i think people back home see this, what's happening to me, and they take pride and joy in it. and they see it, you know, as this thing that's possible. you know, it expands the world. you know, of what people like us who are from this place are capable of. i think because of that, i have to stay grounded. i have to be strong for all these folks that are rooting for us. and then at the same time, man, my job's to carry the voice of the movie as far as i can. i just got back from two weeks in europe hitting seven different cities. and despite the myth that black folks, images don't travel oversove overseas, this is traveling damn
well. doing the good work keeps my grounded. i remember what it was like almost 25 days in that heat in miami when all these group of people who knew nothing about me, did not have expectation of the academy awards, but working their -- off because they believe in the project. priming that and remembering what that work was like, the process, you know, i think it keeps me a bit buffetted from any of these results. whether good or bad. >> well, that's a very adult way to handle it. >> i'm trying, bro, i'm trying. >> very mature. >> i'm going to wake up the day after and have a blank page like every other writer and it's back to square one. >> you're all in. and this is your first time, but not your last appearance on this program. look fwoord having you back. i'm proud of you barry jenkins. that's our showing tonight. thanks for watching. and as always, keep the faith.
>> let your headrest in my hand. relax. i got you, i promise. i'm not going to let you go. hey man, i got you. there you go. ten seconds. that right there, you're doing good in the world. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at pbs.org. hi i'm tavis smiley, the israeli sprims coming to the white house. a conversation about the ongoing israeli palestinian conflict, that's next time, see you then.
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